Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lighting Indoors Part 3

I've briefly mentioned window light, but I want to talk more about it today. My home faces East to West so there are two short periods during the day that I get good window lighting. This happens a few hours after sun rise when the the sun raises above the roof of my neighbor's house, and the second is in the evening just prior to sun set when the light is bounced off of the same neighbor's house and into our windows. The evening light is softer and the color can be problematic since it's later in the day and the house it's reflecting off is blue but the results have been interesting for sure. This is why I've suggested a north or south facing window to be the best (depending on which hemisphere you live in.)

Here are some window light photos. The first is from 10am the second is at 4pm. It was an usually nice day yesterday, so when the light came in the living room in the morning I had more light to work with. By the early afternoon when the sun was going down my results are different. (Plus the second photo is not so flattering as the first of me. I guess that's what I get for doing self portraits with a timer.) Both shots with a 50mm lens but the ISO has been raised for the second image to make it work. This is also a good opportunity to talk about noise. Here are some crops of the same photos at 100%. These are unedited. To help reduce the noise I used the Dfine 2.0 plug in on the last crop.

Very little noise in the background. This was at ISO 200.

Not so pretty... This is shot at ISO 800.

This image has had the noise reduced slightly but it's still not as nice as the ISO 200 shot. This is why I try to avoid higher ISO's unless it's totally necessary.  It simply saves time while post processing. I have gotten nice results with ISO's up to 1600 but it took some extra work. I'd rather be on the couch watching a movie personally...

A couple things to remember when shooting with window light.
  • You will almost always need a reflector to fill in the shadow portion of a person's face. Contrast can be problematic in shots like these. I was holding a reflector just off camera left in the first shot. I didn't need one for the evening shot since the light was very flat!
  • Watch for color shift. At different times of day you'll find the color of the light will vary. The color is the second shot hasn't been edited- it's right out of camera. I look slightly blue green, not so pretty as the warm glow of the direct sun light in the first shot.
  • I recommend using a tripod for any shots like this. You will most likely be shooting at wide open apertures with higher ISO's, and even then need a longer exposure to gather the light necessary. The morning light shot was 1/40 @ F8. I don't recommend hand holding 1/40 with a 50mm. I get camera shake every time. The evening shot was even slower. Even with the ISO at 800 I still could only manage a 1/20 @ F2.8 exposure. Big difference.
  • It also might help to use a spot metering mode (where available) to expose for your highlights only instead of metering the whole scene. Focus of capturing the subject only- let the other details and background go. If those elements are vital to your image, you'll need to rethink your lighting. I spot metered the morning image and you can see that the background goes darker behind me. The evening photo has more detail in the background because of the longer exposure.
Tomorrow: More on ambient light in doors. How to work with light when there isn't very much!


    1. Thank you for this post. I really think this will help me utilize window light!

    2. Mentioning color shift: I've never tried it at this time of day, but for your 4pm shot, would simply changing the cameras white balance to "Cloudy" warm up those colors? I know you mentioned the colors coming from the bounced light off your neighbors house. Still learning how al these various WB settings interact with various light types.

    3. @ Michael
      The cloudy WB would make the image too red and give the skin tone an orange "self tanner" kind of glow in this light. I shot the image purposefully with the auto white balance to how the color of the light changes. The best way to find the best color balance in this situation is to PRE function (custom white balance) and have the camera adjust to this specific case. If you don't know how to use this, check your camera manual for a step by step guide on how to do this. The presets are fine, but they are only accurate when you are in the right conditions, for everything else, I suggest the custom WB.